MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- Just another normal day at Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting . . .
The scenario - A mid-air collision involving two F/A-18C's occurred. One pilot ejected somewhere on station, the other is trapped in a smoking cockpit, which only moments ago landed on Fightertown's runway.
Simultaneously emergency calls are dispatched to Search and Rescue and the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting team. The ARFF Marines quickly grab their gear.
Knowing each second could mean life or death, they put their proximity gear on in the truck on the way to the crash site. The Marines are prepared to sacrifice all to rescue the pilot.
As intense as this sounds, luckily it was only an exercise.
Major Brad Borman, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 Safety Officer, coordinated with ARFF, the Air Station Branch Medical Clinic and Search and Rescue to illustrate a realistic recovery mission Nov. 19.
The ARFF welcomed the evolution with open arms.
"I'm going on my seventeenth year in crash crew," said Gunnery Sgt. Robert Wiggs, ARFF section leader, "and this is the first time I have ever seen a training exercise where a squadron established the training evolution and included us."
According to Borman, the training was not only to give ARFF Marines the "hands-on" experience of pulling a pilot safely out of a cockpit, but also to give the pilots a familiarization with the procedure in case they are ever in that type of situation.
With SAR's Angel One in the air to save the stranded pilot who "ejected" near Scout Pond, the ARFF team dispatched to the flightline was already performing a full egress on the pilot trapped in the cockpit.
"We plan for the worst situation possible and hope for the best," said Wiggs. "The more realistic the training exercise the more the Marines learn from participating in it."
The ARFF Marine's primary responsibility is to save lives. If a situation dictates that the victim needs immediate medical attention, several Marines on each team are trained as Emergency Medical Technicians.
Their training would allow them to stabilize the victim until taken to a medical facility.
The second ARFF response team responded and performed a search at the scene where the pilot's parachutes were sighted, Search and Rescue pilots performed a very precise rescue landing near Scout Pond to expedite the rescue of the downed pilot. Due to the teamwork between ARFF, SAR and the support from the Station Fire Department both pilots were found, stabilized and transported to a Medical Facility. They were listed in good condition.
The Marines responding to the flightline call checked the pilots vitals and stabilized him before removing him from the jet. They unfastened the pilot's harness, placed him in a Cervical Collar and a Kendrick Extraction Device (KED) carefully, but quickly, lowered the pilot down the ladder with the assistance of two other Marines. After the pilot was determined stable, the Marines packed up their gear and headed back to their shop to discuss how they performed during the exercise, what they would do different and the overall effectiveness of the team.
"There is no substitute for a training exercise like this. It is so much better than reading a book or watching a video," said Lance Cpl. Robert Meade, ARFF Rescue men. "By actually performing a "hands-on" recovery mission, I get a better feel for my responsibilities as a member of crash crew."
According to Wiggs, practice does not make perfect, but it does make "permanent." It instills permanent confidence, permanent reaction time and permanent teamwork.
"Each individual on a section has their own responsibilities, from a handlinemen to a vehicle driver. If one person is missing or isn't performing their job it's like a puzzle that's missing a few pieces, it just doesn't work right," said Wiggs.
The Marines at ARFF enjoy the chance to participate in training events where their skills are tested and observed.
"This type of training allows me to see my strong points and notice my weaknesses," said Meade.
"But this team responds like we have been taught. To us, it's the real thing every time a drill sounds."